Reviews of books, movies, and more
Out of the countless stories we’ve heard throughout our lives, there are always a few characters who grab our attention in particular and stick with us for a long time. Maybe they are people we’d like to meet, or heroes we want to root for. Or perhaps they seem particularly interesting and multi-faceted, and serve an important role to the story at large. Mine come from a variety of sources: classic novels, books and movies I read growing up, TV shows, etc. If I had to sit down and pick just a few, this delightful dozen would definitely make the cut! I’ll sum up what their role in the overall story is, and then try to explain what I find so admirable or interesting about them.
Here they are, in no particular order:
“She had always suffered from a vague restlessness, a longing for adventure that she told herself severely was the result of reading too many novels when she was a small child.”
Set in a sort of alternate universe version of the British Empire, The Blue Sword begins in a desert outpost where the imperialist Homelanders trade with the Hillfolk, a proud desert people. Recently orphaned Harry (short for Angharad) is a young woman sent to live with a colonel and his wife. She hasn’t been in town long before she is promptly kidnapped by Corlath, king of the Hillfolk, who sees that she has a magical gift that can help them win the war against the invading Northerners.
Harry really takes it all in stride, proving her adaptability as she comes to love her adopted country. She displays resilience and bravery while training in combat, and she’s not afraid to go against the grain in order to do what she feels is right. I think what really sells her the most as a great main character is her hilariously dry sense of humor which colors her reactions and inner thoughts. (Dubbed “Harimad” in the Hillfolk language, she ponders her new name: “Oh dear. I suppose that explains something. Harimad. Mad Harry.”) So often it seems writers go over the top to prove how feisty and vivacious their female characters are, so Harry’s quiet strength is a breath of fresh air.
“Not the last of the old Jedi, Luke. The first of the new.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
Luke fulfills the classic hero type for the Star Wars trilogy, and when I was a little kid I thought he was awesome. In fact, I’m not sure if I wanted to marry him or just grow up to be him. Though unfortunately I did not fulfill my dream of becoming a Jedi Knight, Luke still remains one of my favorite characters. Growing up bored to death in a remote corner of the galaxy, he’s dragged into an adventure and ends up a war hero. His impatience and eagerness are tempered somewhat by a number of hard lessons and setbacks, but his idealism and determination to work towards the good of the galaxy remains unchanged. While anti-heroes can of course also be interesting characters, I still appreciate an old-fashioned hero who still holds onto optimism even in the bleakest times. Not to mention that Luke gets to do some interesting things in the books that follow the movies as well, such as restarting the Jedi Order. I’m also very much looking forward to seeing how the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens handles his character.
“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” – Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth Bennet’s parents have five daughters and no sons to inherit the estate, so Elizabeth’s mother will do basically anything to ensure that all her girls marry well. However, Elizabeth is determined to marry for love, or not at all. Her independent-mindedness makes her stand out, but it also sometimes leads her to misjudge others without knowing the whole story. Because of this, she doesn’t get along with the aloof Mr. Darcy right off the bat (though I think overhearing a guy describe you as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me” would make any girl angry). Nevertheless, she is quick to admit her mistakes once she realizes the truth about Darcy’s history. Her strong will and flawed but likeable nature has made her a favorite character of numerous readers for the past 200 years.
“Of all the souls I’ve encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.” – James T. Kirk
It’s unsurprising that the Vulcan/human First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise ended up such a pop culture icon. His two warring halves make for an endlessly fascinating character development arc that, thanks to Leonard Nimoy, has spanned nearly 50 years of TV and film. With a new film in the works, we’ll hope Spock continues to live long and prosper.
Spock has an inherent curiosity about the universe, which is probably one of the main reasons he ended up on a five-year mission into unexplored space in the first place. In addition to the infamous brain, Spock possesses a respect for all life, giving him a sense of compassion (especially for his closest friends) that he usually tries to explain away with logic. However, logic also often drives him to make hard decisions, even when they come at great cost to himself.
“That’s what Hermione does. When in doubt, go to the library.” – Ron Weasley
The only person who knows almost as much about the wizarding world as J.K. Rowling is Hermione Granger. Though she’s been called a bit of a know-it-all, her extensive knowledge about basically everything frequently comes in handy on her adventures with Harry and Ron. While at first she is constantly worried about breaking the rules, Hermione serves as the moral center of the group, having tremendous compassion for anyone treated unfairly. She also makes significant personal sacrifices in order to assist Harry in his attempt to defeat Voldemort. As an avid reader and good student growing up, I always held Hermione near and dear to my heart. She’s like the patron saint of nerdy bookworms, and proof that they can be essential to vanquishing evil wizards!
“That’s who you are, Zuko. Someone who keeps fighting even though it’s hard.” – Ursa
If you’ve never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’re missing out. It’s a beautifully animated, surprisingly emotional fantasy series in the tradition of Star Wars or Harry Potter. It also has many excellent characters!
Zuko was once the crown prince of the Fire Nation, but his life changes forever when his father punishes him for perceived disrespect by scarring and banishing him. His only chance to return home again lies in capturing the Avatar, a young boy destined to end the war the Fire Nation has been waging against the rest of the world. As he relentlessly pursues the Avatar, Zuko maintains a single-minded determination to restore his honor and win his father’s approval.
Though he is one of the main antagonists of the series, Zuko is far from a one-note villain. He can be either an abrasive hothead or an awkward teenager depending on the circumstances. I became invested in him through his nuanced character arc that slowly unfolds. The subplots centering around him are just as interesting as those of the story’s protagonists, and his complicated family history has a tragic Shakespearean vibe to it.
“No ‘Glory shall be your reward’ for me. Oh, no, for me, it is, ‘Stop whining’ and ‘Go to bed’.” – Gen
This ongoing series is set in an alternate Mediterranean environment, complete with its own fascinating mythology. Eugenides, or “Gen,” is a young thief who claims he can steal anything. A master trickster, his talents are put to use as the nations of his world make alliances and go to war. He’s always three steps ahead of everyone else – including first-time readers of the series.
It actually took me a while to warm up to Gen. In the first novel, he is quite an unreliable narrator, and not being in on his schemes and motivations caused me to resent him for being such a smart aleck! However, the series takes a darker turn in the next books as Gen really goes through the wringer. Through it all, though, he never loses his cleverness and cheekiness, which quickly becomes endearing rather than annoying. He’s one of the best big-hearted scamp archetypes that you’ll find in fiction.
“It is my business to know what other people do not know.” – Sherlock Holmes
Though there have been countless adaptations of the most famous detective in literature, as far as I’m concerned none of them can touch Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation. His wit, keen mind, and unconventional methods make the mysteries he solves endlessly entertaining. While Holmes claims to only be concerned with solving puzzles to avoid boredom, it’s clear that deep down he really is invested in the people he helps. He also greatly values the support of Dr. Watson, his best friend and the chronicler of most of his adventures. It’s plain to see why these Holmes and Watson feature in so many TV and film adaptations, even one hundred years later.
“You can’t just accept things, Oliver. If I had accepted my life, I would be a cocktail waitress in Vegas like my mother, and I never would have gone to college, and I never would have moved a thousand miles away to work at Queen Consolidated, and I never would have believed some crazy guy in a hood when he told me I could be more than just some IT girl.” – Felicity Smoak
While I’ll admit that the writing of Felicity’s character has been a little rocky as of late, in the first and second seasons of CW’s “Green Arrow” adaptation, Felicity Smoak very nearly stole the whole show. She’s introduced early on as an IT girl whose computer hacking skills are called upon by her boss’s stepson, Oliver Queen…who turns out to be the archer vigilante taking down bad guys around the city. She does a fine job supporting Oliver in his quest, though she’s not at all afraid to stand up to him when he makes a decision involving questionable logic or morals. Due to her heart and her hilarious comments, the show really took off once she became part of the core trio of characters. Some female characters only get relegated to one role, but Felicity gets to wear a lot of hats: the brains, the beauty, the comic relief, and eventually – much to my delight – the love interest. And yet, she still manages to feel like someone you’d love to get coffee with (and ask where she got all of her awesome outfits!)
“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” – Sam Gamgee
At the start of the journey, Sam is a humble Hobbit who loves his job as a gardener. He’s never even left the Shire when he’s called upon to accompany Frodo on a mission to protect the One Ring. Sam’s loyalty to Frodo is unshakable, even when Frodo begins to become corrupted by the ring’s power. In fact, Frodo wouldn’t have gotten anywhere close to Mount Doom if it weren’t for Sam’s good sense and optimism. Sam’s also incredibly brave – the guy killed a giant spider and single-handedly took on a fortress full of orcs! Basically, without Sam, Middle Earth would have been doomed.
“If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of goodwill and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us.” – The Bishop of Digne
Arrested for stealing bread to feed his sister’s family, Jean Valjean eventually serves 19 years of hard labor after several failed prison escape attempts. After he is set free, Valjean is filled with hatred for the world that has always treated him so harshly. However, Valjean’s entire life turns around when he has an encounter with someone who shows him true compassion and mercy. He vows to become a different man, and over the next two decades makes an impact on the many individuals who cross his path. The strength of his faith in God leads him to make a number of difficult decisions to help others at great cost to himself. Almost everything good in his life that he receives Valjean gives away to benefit someone else. Despite all his incredible deeds, Valjean remains a believable character, as we are allowed to see the mental struggles Valjean undergoes as he chooses the selfless options rather than the selfish ones. While Victor Hugo’s novel gives him the most depth and complexity, the essence of his character has also been translated very well to the popular musical.
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.” – Jane Eyre
Like many orphans in 19th-century English literature, Jane Eyre came from tough beginnings. She spent her early years living with her cruel aunt and cousins, then spent another decade at a harsh boarding school. Upon reaching adulthood, she takes a position as a governess for the ward of a mysterious landowner, Mr. Rochester. Though Jane and her employer fall in love, some of Rochester’s dark secrets are revealed, and Jane decides to preserve her own self-respect at the seeming expense of her life with Rochester. Poor and plain, the world had always informed Jane that she was small and insignificant. Despite her quiet exterior, Jane possesses a blunt honesty and an unwavering sense of self-worth. Her narrative style is so clear and arresting that it feels as though you are sitting across from her, hearing her tell you her life story.
Who are some of your favorite characters?